A Note from the Director:
The mandolin world has many faces and wears many types of clothing. Assuming you are a mandolin enthusiast, and if you open your mind, eyes, and ears, you will find a very diverse world of music that awaits you.
In the mid 1990’s, after playing bluegrass-influenced mandolin for 20+ years, I was ready to discover new mandolin sounds. Little did I know that I would stumble across my next mando journey late one night in the campground at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Under a tent canopy, with colored bluegrass festival lighting, was a classical mandolin quartet, complete with music stands, sheet music, and songs I had never heard before. I was mesmerized.
One month later I found myself in San Francisco at the annual CMSA convention (Classical Mandolin Society of America). Even though the name says “classical,” I found a multitude of musical styles being played and performed there: Everything from Bach to bluegrass, with a serving of bebop jazz added for spice.
Most memorable was the large mandolin orchestra that assembled for each of these conventions. Large – meaning over 100 players – playing mandolin, mandola, mandocello, guitar, and bass, with a conductor. What a sound!!! What an experience.
After a couple of conventions in different cities, I decided to take part in playing in the annual CMSA mandolin orchestra. Wow!!! There I was, with sheet music, parts to learn perfectly, and a conductor to follow. Truly, a new life experience.
A few more years later, I saw this as an opportunity to buy a new instrument (mandocello – so awesome), with the thoughts of starting a mandolin orchestra based in my home of Fort Collins, Colorado. Now, this is a big decision and a big commitment. I had seen many mandolin ensembles at the conventions, large, small, good, and ….
What a job it was to go hunting for the best players I could find in our area, find sources for the music, and organize the music so that good players who, like me, were not good sheet music readers could still have a seat in the group. I achieved this through having piano versions of all parts recorded on CD’s so members could rehearse at home with no questions. This worked.
Our group, aptly named “Mandomonium Mandolin Orchestra” by our original guitarist, ‘Ranger’ Rick Bradstreet, evolved into a 13-piece orchestra: 3 first mandolins, 4 second mandolins, 3 mandolas, 1 mandocello, 1 guitar, 1 upright bass. Almost all the players were performers in various other groups from all types of music. I was fortunate to have very good players in the group who got along well. Listening audiences fully enjoyed the performances, and most important, we had fun.
I asked for help in wherever I could find it. One of my best mentors was Butch Baldassari in Nashville. We would discuss every aspect of leading a mandolin orchestra. He was also very generous in giving me some music arrangements.
In 2004 we released Mandomonium on CD – a project that I am still proud of. The original production of CD’s sold out over 10 years ago. Enough people have shown interest that I decided to have the project re-released. Why?? I feel the music is too good to let fade away and be forgotten.
I give my sincere thanks to Drew and Mary Horton, who helped finance this release, and to Andy and Lauren May, who I handed the project to, because this is what they do. We get by with a little help from our friends – don’t we?
Brent Hawley, Director, Mandomonium Mandolin Orchestra
Mandomonium Producer and Engineer
Fort Collins, CO, November, 2018